Sunday, March 30, 2014

Use of Scripture (Luke 20.27-47)

Sermons by: Robert Austell - March 30, 2014
Text: Luke 20:27-47

:: Sermon Audio (link) - scroll down for written draft  
Click link to open and play in browser; right-click to save. Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes. Search for "Good Shepherd Sermons" or "Robert Austell."

:: Some Music Used
Gathering Music: teaching "My Soul Finds Rest (Psalm 62)" (Townend, Keyes)
Song of Praise: "My Soul Finds Rest (Psalm 62)" (Townend, Keyes)
Hymn of Praise: "Lord We Hear Your Word" (AUSTRIAN HYMN)
Offering of Music: "When I Survey the Wondrous Cross" (arr. Pepper Choplin)
Our Song of Praise: "When I Survey the Wondrous Cross (v. 4)"
Hymn of Sending: "Every Promise of Your Word" (Getty/Townend)
Postlude: "Lord, Keep Us Steadfast in Thy Word" (Paul Manz)

:: Sermon Manuscript (pdf)  
This "manuscript" represents an early draft of the sermon. Nevertheless, if you'd prefer to read than to listen, this is provided for that purpose.

Jesus once said, “I did not come to do away with the Law and the Prophets, but to make them complete.” (Mt. 5:17) Over the past number of weeks we’ve been looking at different ways Jesus completes scripture: through teaching, through miracles and actions, and ultimately in and through himself. We have seen that he is the embodiment of God’s Word and present to us even today.

We get a little bit of all of that in a passage that comes not long after the one we looked at last week (remember the vine-growers who killed the beloved son of the owner of the vineyard?). In an exchange with the religious leaders called the Sadducees, scripture is referenced three times. We will see the Sadducees misusing scripture for their own purposes; we’ll see Jesus respond, using scripture to interpret scripture; and we’ll see Jesus quote a third passage that identifies him as Lord and Messiah, fulfilling the ancient written words.

What all of that boils down to is a reminder of just how important and precious God’s Word is to us, including HOW we read, study, and use it.

Reading Scripture on Its Own Terms

27 Now there came to Him some of the Sadducees (who say that there is no resurrection), 28 and they questioned Him, saying, “Teacher, Moses wrote for us that IF A MAN’S BROTHER DIES, having a wife, AND HE IS CHILDLESS, HIS BROTHER SHOULD MARRY THE WIFE AND RAISE UP CHILDREN TO HIS BROTHER. (Dt 25:5) 29 “Now there were seven brothers; and the first took a wife and died childless; 30 and the second 31 and the third married her; and in the same way all seven died, leaving no children. 32 “Finally the woman died also. 33 “In the resurrection therefore, which one’s wife will she be? For all seven had married her.”
The religious leaders are becoming more and more desperate to catch Jesus saying or doing something for which they can have him arrested. After last week’s parable of the vineyard (vv. 9-19), they began to plant spies among the crowds that followed him, and they kept posing trick questions that might get him in some kind of trouble. In v. 27, some of the Sadducees came and took part in this same kind of trickery. The Sadducees were wealthy and counted the high priests among their ranks; they were also known in particular for not believing in resurrection. The question they posed to Jesus was specifically designed to trip him up and draw him into opposing the Law of Moses.

They appealed to a Mosaic law, later called “levirate marriage” or “brother-in-law marriage,” in which the surviving brother of a childless, deceased man was obligated to marry his sister-in-law to provide for her needs and preserve the deceased brother’s family line. They quote the pertinent law from Deuteronomy 25:5.

Now our minds want to go to “the brother-in-law does what?” but that was part of a family and name-oriented culture and provided for the widow in significant ways. The rationale for that was not in question. Rather, the Sadducees concoct an elaborate scenario of seven successive childless brothers dying, followed finally by the woman herself. With no children and seven marriage, they ask, who will be married to her in the resurrection? Their trap – as strange as it seems to our ears – is that Jesus would either have to deny the resurrection and get in trouble with the Pharisees (who did believe in it) or he would have to oppose the Law and say that the marriages were not valid or not equal.

Reading Scripture with Scripture
34 Jesus said to them, “The sons of this age marry and are given in marriage, 35 but those who are considered worthy to attain to that age and the resurrection from the dead, neither marry nor are given in marriage; 36 for they cannot even die anymore, because they are like angels, and are sons of God, being sons of the resurrection. 37 “But that the dead are raised, even Moses showed, in the passage about the burning bush, where he calls the Lord THE GOD OF ABRAHAM, AND THE GOD OF ISAAC, AND THE GOD OF JACOB. (Ex. 3:6) 38 “Now He is not the God of the dead but of the living; for all live to Him.” 39 Some of the scribes answered and said, “Teacher, You have spoken well.” 40 For they did not have courage to question Him any longer about anything. 
Jesus did not respond in the way they expected. He affirmed marriage in this life; he affirmed that there is a resurrection from the dead; and he said that after resurrection people are no longer married or given in marriage. (vv. 34-35) He goes on to explain that after the resurrection people cannot die anymore because they are “like angels and are sons of God, being sons of the resurrection.”  Well fair enough; Jesus came down on the side of the Pharisees (who also believed in resurrection), but now the Sadducees had him because he had apparently dismissed or ignored the Law of Moses about brother-in-law marriage.

As an aside, I don’t know quite what this question meant for the Pharisees, because they also would have failed the Sadducee’s riddle. One commentary said that this was a known riddle of the Sadducees and the way that they “disproved” the resurrection. My guess is that the Pharisees had enough power that there was simply a status quo between them and the priestly Sadducees. At any rate, none of them was under fire for claiming to be the Messiah or inciting the people against that same status quo!

But here’s where Jesus was so smart (and instructive to us as well). By coming down on the side of resurrection he dodged one bullet, but apparently stood against Moses and the Law. But then he quotes scripture, using Moses (of all people!) to PROVE the resurrection. He says, “But that the dead are raised, even Moses showed, in the passage about the burning bush, where he calls the Lord the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” This passage is from Exodus 3:6. Jesus point is that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were long dead from this world when God was speaking to Moses from the burning bush. But because God named Himself as “I am” and indicated present-tense that He IS the God of Abraham, He IS the God of Isaac, and He IS the God of Jacob, then those three men must be alive with God in resurrection.

Whether that’s an airtight proof of resurrection, I’m not sure; but it certainly took the wind out of the sails for saying that Jesus stood against Moses’ teaching. The ever-present name of God as “I AM” revealed in conjunction with the dead patriarchs stunned the Sadducees and we read that “they did not have courage to question him any longer about anything.”

Fulfilling Scripture in Christ
41 Then He said to them, “How is it that they say the Christ is David’s son? 42 “For David himself says in the book of Psalms, ‘THE LORD SAID TO MY LORD, “SIT AT MY RIGHT HAND, 43 UNTIL I MAKE YOUR ENEMIES A FOOTSTOOL FOR YOUR FEET.” ’ (Ps 110:1) 44 “Therefore David calls Him ‘Lord,’ and how is He his son?” 45 And while all the people were listening, He said to the disciples, 46 “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and love respectful greetings in the market places, and chief seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets, 47 who devour widows’ houses, and for appearance’s sake offer long prayers. These will receive greater condemnation.”
Finally, kind of like he did in the passage we looked at last week, Jesus answers a question that hadn’t been asked out loud. The tension, the opposition, the reason for the spying and traps and riddles… it was because the people believed Jesus was the Messiah. So, after the exchange about the resurrection, Jesus asks them a question: “How is it that they say the Christ is David’s son?” (v. 41) It was understood, after all, that the Messiah would come from David’s line. That’s one reason the Gospel writers present the long genealogies at the beginning of Matthew and Luke.

Jesus quotes from Psalm 110:1, quoting the very words David himself says: “The Lord said to my Lord, ‘Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.’” He asks on top of that, “David calls him ‘Lord,’ and how is he his son?” The point, a little obscure to us, is that David’s own language about his anointed heir indicated that he would be greater than David. The Messiah wouldn’t be the return of one like David, which was the popular belief; rather, the Messiah or Christ would be one whom even the great King David would bow down to and call “Lord.” In this final quote from the scripture, Jesus claims that scripture is being fulfilled in himself! Even King David would bow down to him! Can you imagine how the religious leaders took that when it sank in? But to top that off, he then warns the people against the hypocrisy of those same religious leaders, not only calling them out, but drawing in the support of the crowd even more.

So in this one brief exchange, we have seen Jesus use scripture to respond to a trap. We’ve seen him use scripture to explain and go deeper on an important teaching about death and resurrection. We’ve seen him use scripture to reveal who he is, not only as a descendant of David, but as David’s Lord. And he’s referenced Moses and David, the Law and the poetic writings in the process.

Takeaways

So, interesting, right? But what do we do with that?

Here’s one thing I want to highlight this morning: the Sadducees used scripture for their own purposes. That passage has nothing to do with resurrection and nothing to do with a concocted one-bride-for-seven-dead-brothers riddle. It is about showing godly mercy and grace to a widow in her loss and honoring the covenant family and name of God’s people. Here’s my question: how often do we pull a scripture out of context to make a point or enforce a viewpoint and not bother to ask ourselves if that is the Word God is speaking?  We spent all summer talking about reading and studying scripture in context – remember Fluffy the wise puppet? The Bible is not meant to be a hammer or secret weapon for our own purposes. It is God’s Word to us on its own terms. The Sadducees twisted scripture for their purposes; we are, rather, to submit our hearts and minds to God’s revealed purposes in scripture.

Here’s a second highlight: Jesus used scripture to interpret scripture. That is an excellent and time-tested way to understand the Bible. There will be passages that make no sense or are confusing. Don’t read them in isolation! Look for other passages about the same topic. Almost always scripture will shine light on scripture and open up understanding. That’s what we did last summer with the emphasis on reading in context.  That’s what we are doing on Wednesday nights with all the questions that have been submitted. For example, this past Wednesday and next we were asked about free will and God’s plan. You can find verses to support each thing. But we are putting them all up on the table and using scripture to help explain scripture. To do that, you have to read and study! You can’t crack the Bible open like a fortune cookie to get an answer to today’s dilemma. It doesn’t work that way. There is a story line and plot; there is a great narrative about a great God and how God revealed Himself in many times and situations. It’s why we have Sunday schools and Bible studies and Wednesday nights.

Here’s a third and final highlight: all scripture points to Jesus. We heard this last week. God’s revelation is not just informational, it is personal. We don’t read and study to get to the final rounds of Jeopardy; we read and study to meet God in the flesh. Jesus is the living Word of God, the scriptures embodied to us and for us. Scripture, read properly, nourishes and sustains a living faith in a living Lord.

And that is Good News we need! Amen.



Sunday, March 23, 2014

Rejected Cornerstone (Luke 20.1-19, Psalm 118.22-29)

Sermons by: Robert Austell - March 23, 2014
Text: Luke 20:1-19; Psalm 118:22-29

:: Sermon Audio (link) - scroll down for written draft  
Click link to open and play in browser; right-click to save. Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes. Search for "Good Shepherd Sermons" or "Robert Austell."

:: Some Music Used
Gathering Music: "Andante" (J.S. Bach)
Song of Praise: "Praise is Rising/Hosanna" (Brown/Baloche)
Hymn of Praise: "The Church's One Foundation/I Lay in Zion" (AURELIA, ref. Youngblood)
Offering of Music: "My Prayer" (choir) (Rick Bean)
Our Song of Praise: "The Doxology"
Hymn of Sending: "I Have Decided to Follow Jesus" (ASSAM)
Postlude: "In the Cross of Christ I Glory" (Cherwien)

:: Sermon Manuscript (pdf)  
This "manuscript" represents an early draft of the sermon. Nevertheless, if you'd prefer to read than to listen, this is provided for that purpose.

We’ve been looking at examples of Jesus using the old scripture (his “Bible”; our Old Testament) in his teaching and ministry. He began his public ministry saying that he didn’t come to do away with the old scripture, but to fulfill it or “make it complete.” And as we move closer to his crucifixion and resurrection chronologically, we more and more see a move from him simply teaching that scripture more fully to actually embodying it and fulfilling it in his life and person. Today we will look at one of the exchanges between Jesus and the religious leaders. At the conclusion of that exchange, he will quote from Psalm 118, quietly clearly equating himself with what is being described in that ancient writing. Where this hits our lives most personally is that God’s Word is ultimately not instructional, but personal. It is not finally words of comfort or hope, but Jesus drawing near to comfort and bring hope when we most need Him to.

We begin with a crafty challenge from those set to take Jesus down.

Confrontation (vv. 1-8)
1 On one of the days while He was teaching the people in the temple and preaching the gospel, the chief priests and the scribes with the elders confronted Him, 2 and they spoke, saying to Him, “Tell us by what authority You are doing these things, or who is the one who gave You this authority?” 3 Jesus answered and said to them, “I will also ask you a question, and you tell Me: 4 “Was the baptism of John from heaven or from men?” 5 They reasoned among themselves, saying, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ He will say, ‘Why did you not believe him?’ 6 “But if we say, ‘From men,’ all the people will stone us to death, for they are convinced that John was a prophet.” 7 So they answered that they did not know where it came from. 8 And Jesus said to them, “Nor will I tell you by what authority I do these things.”
Last week we talked about the “cleansing of the Temple,” when Jesus overturned the tables of the money changers and chased them, the animals, and the animal handlers out of the Temple courts. We looked at an early account of that in John and another account, just after “Palm Sunday,” in Matthew. As is often the case, we find Matthew and Luke narrating the same events and it turns out Luke also describes the Temple Cleansing right after Palm Sunday, in Luke 19. I mention that because it is what immediately precedes our passage today. It is one of mounting reasons why the chief priests and scribes are becoming increasingly hostile toward Jesus. People are turning out more and more to listen to him and he is now teaching in the Temple courts: “on one of the days while he was teaching the people in the temple and preaching the gospel…” (v. 1).

So these religious leaders confront him – Luke’s word, not mine: “Tell us by what authority you are doing these things, or who is the one who gave you this authority?” (v. 2) What things? Well, it could be the healings, or chasing the group out of the temple courts, or his claim to be the Messiah, or his teaching in the Temple courts as one with authority, or all of these and more! But it’s not just a question of “who authorized this” but more “what right do you have to do all this?” They were, perhaps, looking for the kind of implicating words they would later take to Pilate; if Jesus claimed to be the Messiah, they could use that against him. And at this point, it seems clear that they were against him. They were no longer trying to learn and understand; they were trying to oppose and take Jesus down.

In good Jesus-fashion, his answer is a question. He answered, “I will also ask you a question, and you tell me: Was the baptism of John from heaven or from men?” (vv. 3-4) They thought they had sprung a trap on Jesus, because either way he answered their question could have been used against him. But he flipped the trap around on them, and they realize it only after he has put his question out there. If they granted the ministry of John the Baptist divine authority, they discredit themselves as unbelievers, for John had pointed to and lifted up Jesus’ authority; if they denied John’s ministry, the people would turn on them, for the people had believed John a prophet sent by God.

So they answered that they did not know and Jesus responded, “Nor will I tell you by what authority I do these things.” (v. 8)

What I Will Tell You (vv. 9-19)
9 And He began to tell the people this parable: “A man planted a vineyard and rented it out to vine-growers, and went on a journey for a long time. 10 “At the harvest time he sent a slave to the vine-growers, so that they would give him some of the produce of the vineyard; but the vine-growers beat him and sent him away empty-handed. 11 “And he proceeded to send another slave; and they beat him also and treated him shamefully and sent him away empty-handed. 12 “And he proceeded to send a third; and this one also they wounded and cast out. 13 “The owner of the vineyard said, ‘What shall I do? I will send my beloved son; perhaps they will respect him.’ 14 “But when the vine-growers saw him, they reasoned with one another, saying, ‘This is the heir; let us kill him so that the inheritance will be ours.’ 15 “So they threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. What, then, will the owner of the vineyard do to them? 16 “He will come and destroy these vine-growers and will give the vineyard to others.” When they heard it, they said, “May it never be!” 17 But Jesus looked at them and said, “What then is this that is written: ‘The stone which the builders rejected, This became the chief corner stone’? 18 “Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces; but on whomever it falls, it will scatter him like dust.” 19 The scribes and the chief priests tried to lay hands on Him that very hour, and they feared the people; for they understood that He spoke this parable against them.
But Jesus was not done. He began to tell the people a parable. By turning to a parable, Jesus was able to answer the question out loud where the people could hear without springing the trap with a direct answer to the religious leaders. In fact, his parable doesn’t even answer the question of “by what authority”… at least not directly. He will appeal to scripture to do that.

No, the parable is a disguised judgment against the religious leaders. As with all parables, it just sounds like a story until you get to the “punch line,” the twist at the end that unlocks the meaning of the story.

So Jesus tells the story: a man planted a vineyard and rented it out to vine-growers while going on a long journey… (v. 9)

At harvest time he sent a slave to collect some of the produce, but the vine-growers beat the slave and sent him away. This happened a second and third time, with each slave being treated worse and worse. Finally, the owner sent his “beloved son”; but rather than respecting the son, the vine-growers conspired to kill the son in hopes of taking ownership for themselves. Jesus then asks the question: “What will happen when the owner returns?” (v. 15) And he provides the answer himself: “He will come and destroy these vine-growers and will give the vineyard to others.” (v. 16) And those who heard the story cried out, “May it never be!”

It is not immediately clear what the reason (or source) for that response is. Is it “the people” listening to Jesus in the Temple court? Is it the religious leaders? Is it everyone? And why the outcry? It is a horrible and tragic story – but is the outcry over the story… the death of the son and the owner’s judgment? Or is the outcry because some present found themselves IN the story as those who have rejected the prophets – and even the Son – of God?  Probably the answer to all those questions is ‘yes’ – some of all in such a diverse crowd.

But Jesus isn’t done; the “punch line” of the parable has not yet fully landed. Looking at those around him, he adds to his parable this conclusion: “What then is this that is written: ‘The stone which the builders rejected, this became the chief corner stone? Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces; but on whomever it falls, it will scatter him like dust.’” (vv. 17-18)

Will the religious leaders (or people!) reject a stone God has chosen for His purpose? Will they become guilty of acting against those the owner of the vineyard has sent, even his own “beloved Son?” Jesus final words step a bit out of story and seem to say, “Yes, if you reject what God has chosen, you will be broken to pieces and scattered like dust.” In so many words, Jesus is warning, “Be careful that you are not standing against God and acting in your own interests.”

What we do know is that the scribes and the chief priests understood that he “spoke this parable against them” (v. 19); and they tried to lay hands on him that very hour, though they feared the people. They not only got an answer to their question – what right do you have to do all this – they got a warning; and it didn’t go over very well.

For Those With Ears to Hear (Psalm 118)
22 The stone which the builders rejected Has become the chief corner stone. 23 This is the Lord’s doing; It is marvelous in our eyes. 24 This is the day which the Lord has made; Let us rejoice and be glad in it. 25 O Lord, do save, we beseech You; O Lord, we beseech You, do send prosperity! 26 Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord; We have blessed you from the house of the Lord. 27 The Lord is God, and He has given us light; Bind the festival sacrifice with cords to the horns of the altar. 28 You are my God, and I give thanks to You; You are my God, I extol You. 29 Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; For His lovingkindness is everlasting. ~Psalm 118:22-29
I would describe Jesus’ parable as a “what I will tell you” response to the original question. But I think there is also a “for those with ears to hear” response as well. It is located in Jesus usage of the one half-verse from Psalm 118. It was not only known by any Jewish person of Jesus time, but was actually being sung and read on the very day or two these events are happening. It’s like this Psalm is the “song of the day” at this point in Passover week; people might even be reciting or singing it on their own as they walk around. It describes the procession up to the Temple, the very route Jesus and the people had traversed from the Triumphal Entry of Palm Sunday up to the Temple where Jesus cleaned house and then remained to teach.

Starting in Psalm 118:22, which Jesus quoted, the Psalm goes on to declare that the REJECTED stone has become the CHOSEN chief cornerstone and is “the Lord’s doing… marvelous in our eyes.” (v. 23) There’s the answer to the “by whose AUTHORITY” question! But there is so much more! Verses 25-26 are what the crowd shouted to Jesus as he rode into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday: “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” (Matthew 21:9) “Hosanna” is the Hebrew word translated, “save us, please!” You can see that in the first line of v. 25. With these words, Jesus has already been hailed by the crowd as the SAVING ONE and MESSIAH sent by God! As we read on, we read that God has “given us light” (v. 27) – bringing to mind Jesus as the “LIGHT of the world” and the “LIGHT of Life.” And v. 27 concludes with the image of “binding the festival SACRIFICE with cords to the horns of the altar.” This is why this Psalm was used during the literal and figurative procession towards Passover; it had in mind the sacrifice of the Lamb. And Jesus is on his way to make this sacrifice once and for all.

There is much more that can be unpacked in Psalm 118. My point for today is that for those wanting to trap Jesus, they heard him evade their trap and then indirectly condemn their motives with a parable. For those with ears to hear, listening for what God was saying, there was so much more! Jesus DID answer the question about authority: he was sent by God. Jesus DID answer the question about his identity: he was not only the one that would be rejected, but the one God established as “chief cornerstone” of what God was building. He also was the heir, the Son of the Owner, the very Son of God. And he also DID indicate the way in which he would fulfil God’s plans: he was and is the actual fulfillment, the embodying, of the Psalm 118 procession and the Passover itself: the Light of Life and the very sacrifice offered for the sin of the world.

It’s Personal

Having said all that, what I hope you take away from this is not just a “now I understand some of the interplay between Old and New Testament a bit more” or “I can wow my friends with a new Hebrew word.

What I hope you can hear in all this is that there is so much more than words and knowledge and insight. Jesus isn’t just explaining Old Testament to us. He’s not just teaching us better ways to live and love, though all that is true. What I hope you hear, though, is that Jesus is not merely instructional, but personal. And that is Good News we really need.

Jesus is personal means that when you feel lost, he doesn’t just have information about where to go; Jesus gets up to look, seeks and finds, and goes out to search and rescue. Jesus told stories about that because he was describing the way he really is. And if you are the one in a hundred lost or the one hungry and alone in the scrub or the one who can’t find your way home, there is real help and hope.

Jesus is personal means that when you are in the dark – in all the ways that can happen – Jesus doesn’t just have some cheery words to brighten your day, but is himself the light you need. He is someone you can talk to, listen for, hang on to, and trust in. Not words, but a person; not an ivory tower god, but one who has suffered and struggled and bled and cried.

Jesus is personal means that when you are weeping, you are not alone; for even with all that he knew of resurrection, power, life, and healing, Jesus wept with his friends Mary and Martha when their brother and his friend had died. He is not a creed about life everlasting, he is flesh and blood and friend and brother, though to be sure he is also God.

And Jesus is personal means that even when you think you’ve got him nicely trapped in a box of your own making, right where you want him to take out or leave, Jesus loves you enough to step right out of that box and remind you that he’s MORE than a plaything or hobby to be controlled, defined, or dismissed. That this gives him the right of judgment should wake us right up and makes us more than a little nervous; that he chooses to show us persistent mercy and grace and pursue us in love will overwhelm us with thankfulness, if we have ears to hear it and eyes to see it.

Which reminds me of the end of Psalm 118:

Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good;
For His lovingkindness is everlasting.



Sunday, March 16, 2014

Two Scenes from the Temple (John 2.13-22, Matthew 21.12-17)

Sermons by: Robert Austell - March 16, 2014
Text: John 2:13-22; Matthew 21:12-17

:: Sermon Audio (link) - scroll down for written draft  
Click link to open and play in browser; right-click to save. Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes. Search for "Good Shepherd Sermons" or "Robert Austell."

:: Some Music Used
Gathering Music: "Sweet Hour of Prayer" (arr. Rick Bean)
Song of Praise: "But for You Who Fear My Name (Malachi 4:2)" (Welcome Wagon)
The Word in Music: "The Temple Song" (Dawson/Austell)
Hymn of Praise: "How Lovely, Lord" (AURELIA)
Offering of Music: "Silver and Gold" (Gwen Ingram, solo) (Kirk Franklin)
Our Song of Praise: "The Doxology"
Hymn of Sending: "My Faith Looks Up to Thee" (arr. Austell)
Postlude: "Olivet" (Osterland)

:: Sermon Manuscript (pdf)  
This "manuscript" represents an early draft of the sermon. Nevertheless, if you'd prefer to read than to listen, this is provided for that purpose. 
13 The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14 And He found in the temple those who were selling oxen and sheep and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables. 15 And He made a scourge of cords, and drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and the oxen; and He poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables; 16 and to those who were selling the doves He said, “Take these things away; stop making My Father’s house a place of business.” 17 His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for Your house will consume me.” 18 The Jews then said to Him, “What sign do You show us as your authority for doing these things?” 19 Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” 20 The Jews then said, “It took forty-six years to build this temple, and will You raise it up in three days?” 21 But He was speaking of the temple of His body. 22 So when He was raised from the dead, His disciples remembered that He said this; and they believed the Scripture and the word which Jesus had spoken. ~John 2:13-22

12 And Jesus entered the temple and drove out all those who were buying and selling in the temple, and overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who were selling doves. 13 And He said to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer’; but you are making it a robbers’ den.” 14 And the blind and the lame came to Him in the temple, and He healed them. 15 But when the chief priests and the scribes saw the wonderful things that He had done, and the children who were shouting in the temple, “Hosanna to the Son of David,” they became indignant 16 and said to Him, “Do You hear what these children are saying?” And Jesus said to them, “Yes; have you never read, ‘Out of the mouth of infants and nursing babies You have prepared praise for Yourself’?” 17 And He left them and went out of the city to Bethany, and spent the night there. ~Matthew 21:12-17
We are continuing our series entitled, “It is Written…” about Jesus use of scripture in his teaching ministry. As we draw close to Easter, we are adding to that title to call it, “It is Written… and is Being Accomplished,” taken from Jesus’ words in Luke 18 where Jesus says, “Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and all things which are written through the prophets about the Son of Man will be accomplished.” (v. 31) Increasingly, we are seeing that Jesus not only taught the Old Testament scriptures, he embodied and fulfilled them in Himself.

Today we look at the memorable, if lesser-known story of Jesus “clearing the Temple.” It’s one of the few times we see Jesus visibly angry and physically aggressive when he overturns tables and chases money-changers and those selling animals out of the Temple courts. One of the unusual aspects of this story is that it appears in two different places in the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ life. By that I don’t just mean that two different writers tell the story, but that John places it early in Jesus’ ministry and Matthew places it near the end.

Scholars interpret this in several different ways. Some would outright challenge the reliability of scripture and point this out as a mistake. I am far more compelled by either accepted explanation that Jesus did this more than once (some of the key details are quite different) and/or that John is more interested in making a point about who Jesus is early in his Gospel than the chronology of the event itself. This would be consistent with the overall structure of John’s Gospel, which as a whole is organized by theme and message more than a strict chronology.

Because the two accounts are quite different, I’ve decided to treat them as separate events and present two mini-sermons rather than one with a single message. So, let’s look now at what I’ll call “Temple Scene 1,” from John 2:13-22.

Temple Scene #1: I Am the Temple Now
John 2:13-22

What Jesus saw at the Temple was not unusual or out of the ordinary. It was Passover time, which meant people traveling to Jerusalem to the Temple to make sacrifices of various kinds to God.  It was impractical to carry large animals, and certainly inconvenient to carry the small ones.  Some industrious and helpful people had worked with the Temple priests to sell animals approved for sacrifice right outside the worship area in the Temple courts.  And then there were moneychangers there for those who had foreign coin or needed change.

The sale of animals and the changing of money were really just side-industries that had developed over the years to accommodate those trying to practice their religion.  The businessmen weren’t out to blaspheme God or undermine the Temple practices. But what angered Jesus that day was that all this side-business was a distraction from the primary function of the Temple.  Rather than Jesus quoting scripture, we see him enacting it, with his disciples remembering what was written: “Zeal for your house will consume me.” (Psalm 69:9) He was not just teaching the scripture; he was living it out! (v. 17)

But there’s an even greater embodiment and fulfillment of the scripture – particularly the Law – described in this text. Jesus was challenged over his actions and asked, “What sign do you show us as your authority for doing these things?” (v. 18) His answer was surprising to everyone that heard it: “Destroy this Temple and in three days I will raise it up.” (v. 19) In fact, his answer was not only surprising, it was really non-sensical, as seen in the response: “It took forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?” (v. 20)

But John includes the story because he and the other disciples remembered Jesus saying it. They connected the dots and realized that “he was speaking of the temple of his body.” (v. 21) And they “believed the Scripture and the word which Jesus had spoken.” (v. 22)

What does it all mean that Jesus equated his body with the temple? How is he fulfilling scripture in this comparison?

The Temple represented an old and indirect way of approaching God and knowing God.  And the business practices and activities of the various merchants only further hampered the effectiveness of the Temple.  Jesus came that we might have a new and living way to reach God, and in his death and resurrection, he effectively cleaned house and tore down the old way and raised up a new one in its place. This event was a kind of “living parable” and preview of what was coming.

In terms of religion and history, Jesus claimed to be the Messiah, the one the old laws and prophecies and religious system were looking forward to.  In the clearing of the Temple and later with his death and resurrection, Jesus was saying, “Loving, knowing, and worshiping God is the great purpose of your life; I am the way to God and to fulfill that purpose.”  That has great implication for our personal lives and spirituality!

Back in Lenoir, at my previous church, my colleague and friend, Gerrit Dawson wrote words for a song to capture this event. I set it to music and would like to sing it for you now as you reflect on this first scene from the temple.

The Temple Song
By Robert Austell and Gerrit Dawson, Easter 2000.

Taking up a robe of flesh, to the far country he came.
The Son made his way among the lost; He traveled to his Father's house.
Yet the song of home was drowned by the din of coarse trade and coin.

"Out, out!" he commanded; Tables overturned, coins scattered.
"Out, out!" he commanded, "I am the Temple now!"
"Tear it down and I will raise it!"


Standing in the cluttered court among the baffled and enraged
Jesus lifted up his hands to sing, "Father Here I am!"
Here I am with the children you gave me.  We sing your praise.

"Out, out!" he commanded; Tables overturned, coins scattered.
"Out, out!" he commanded, "I am the Temple now!"
"Tear it down and I will raise it!"


Zeal for his Father's house, the house of many mansions,
Filled his heart and swelled his voice.


I came to give you life, not dwell in a den of thieves.
Come, come in to my Father's house; I am the Place of Meeting now
So where I am, you may be with me today and always

"Out, out!" he commanded; Tables overturned, coins scattered.
"Out, out!" he commanded, "I am the Temple now!"
"Tear it down and I will raise it!"
“I am the Temple now!

Temple Scene #2: A House of Prayer
Matthew 21:12-17

The second temple scene, near the end of Matthew, has the more familiar format of Jesus quoting scripture and teaching in the moment. Yet we also will see him embodying the Word even as he teaches.

It’s the same situation with the buying and selling of animals in the temple and the changing of money. And again we read of him overturning tables and driving out the offenders. But this time, we have him speaking scripture to them. Mashing together Isaiah 56:7 and Jeremiah 7:11, he says, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer’; but you are making it a ‘robber’s den’.” (v. 13)

Let’s look at this first use of scripture. As we noted before, he seems angered at the distraction – the misdirection from the true purpose of the temple. Instead of being a “house of prayer” where all people can come before the Lord (indeed, Isaiah tells of outcasts and all the nations coming!), the buying and selling have become pre-eminent, and on top of that, dishonest. It’s not just the transactions being distracting, he is accusing them of “robbing” the people, made doubly wrong by covering it with a religious requirement. With the longer Isaiah scripture in view, we see that Jesus is opening up a place for all people to draw near to God.

And like that, the story moves on. The next thing we read (v. 14) is that the blind and the lame came to him in the temple, and he healed them. So interesting that he would and could chase the people out of the temple and then stick around for people to come to him. Matthew places this right after the triumphal and crowd-fueled entry on what we call Palm Sunday. They were ready to make him King, so maybe no one DARED to challenge him in the temple that day. That timing and detail seems to lend credence to this being a second and later event than what John described. At any rate, the blind and the lame were being healed! Weeks ago we talked about Jesus beginning his ministry by reading from the Isaiah in the synagogue and quoting the prophesy that the blind would see and the lame would walk. He’s DOING it; he’s keeping the prophecy and he’s doing it in the middle of the temple in Jerusalem. This is not the first time he has healed, but we definitely see how he has moved from teaching to embodying the word of God!

And right there is where the children found him. Presumably following from the Palm Sunday entry, they continue with shouts of “Hosanna to the Son of David!” (v. 15). It is only now (?!) that we read of the scribes and chief priests becoming indignant. They question, “Do you hear what the children are saying?” They are proclaiming him the Messiah, even as all those lining the streets on Palm Sunday did! And Jesus responds with a little more in your face version of “it is written”: “Yes; have you never read, ‘Out of the mouth of infants and nursing babies you have prepared praise for yourself.’?” He is quoting Psalm 8:2 and again demonstrating that he is the very embodiment of God’s Word in scripture.

So in this brief account of the Temple Clearing, we have three important messages interwoven and embodied in Jesus:

1.    “All Come Near” – Jesus becomes the place of prayer for all people, near and far
2.    “All find healing and Good News” – as the embodiment of the Jubilee, all hope is found in Jesus
3.    “Find the One who Saves” – Jesus is the Promised Messiah and Savior of the world

Who is this Jesus who takes all of God’s word and promises into himself for the healing of the world? He is more than a story, more than the account of religious events and people; he is God’s story in the flesh, lived out and among the world. This isn’t about what should or shouldn’t happen in God’s temple; it’s about the one who BECAME God’s temple, incorporating and embodying multiple strands of God’s Word and promise for the world.

This is Good News! And I hope you hear it! Amen.




Sunday, March 9, 2014

Light-Bringer (Mark 9.2-13)

Sermons by: Robert Austell - March 9, 2014
Text: Mark 9:2-13

:: Sermon Audio (link) - scroll down for written draft  
Audio not available for this sermon; see written draft below.

:: Some Music Used
Gathering Music: "Immortal, Invisible" (arr. Rick Bean)
Call to Worship: "But for You Who Fear My Name (Malachi 4:2)" (Welcome Wagon)
Song of Praise: "Prepare the Way" (Evans/Nuzum)
Hymn of Praise: "Jesus, Take us to the Mountain" (IRBY)
Offering of Music: "But for You Who Fear My Name (Malachi 4:2)" (Welcome Wagon)
Song of Sending: "Salvation's Song" (Stuart Townend)
Postlude: "Fairest Lord Jesus" (arr. Rick Bean)

:: Sermon Manuscript (pdf)  
This "manuscript" represents an early draft of the sermon. Nevertheless, if you'd prefer to read than to listen, this is provided for that purpose. 
2 Six days later, Jesus took with Him Peter and James and John, and brought them up on a high mountain by themselves. And He was transfigured before them; 3 and His garments became radiant and exceedingly white, as no launderer on earth can whiten them. 4 Elijah appeared to them along with Moses; and they were talking with Jesus. 5 Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three tabernacles, one for You, and one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” 6 For he did not know what to answer; for they became terrified. 7 Then a cloud formed, overshadowing them, and a voice came out of the cloud, “This is My beloved Son, listen to Him!” 8 All at once they looked around and saw no one with them anymore, except Jesus alone. 9 As they were coming down from the mountain, He gave them orders not to relate to anyone what they had seen, until the Son of Man rose from the dead. 10 They seized upon that statement, discussing with one another what rising from the dead meant. 11 They asked Him, saying, “Why is it that the scribes say that Elijah must come first?” 12 And He said to them, “Elijah does first come and restore all things. And yet how is it written of the Son of Man that He will suffer many things and be treated with contempt? 13 “But I say to you that Elijah has indeed come, and they did to him whatever they wished, just as it is written of him.”  ~Mark 9:2-13
We are continuing today in our series entitled, “It is Written….” But between now and Easter we take a decided turn in focus. For the past six weeks or so we have been looking at Jesus’ use of Scripture, primarily in his teaching. We’ve seen how he has made good on his word in Matthew 5:17 that he did not come to do away with the old scripture, but to complete and fulfill it. In his use of the old scripture – the Law of Moses and the Writings and the Prophets… our Old Testament – he routinely lifted it up as God’s true Word, but pressed even deeper into how it was to challenge, inhabit, and shape our lives.

Between now and Easter I want to add one additional series verse to “I have not come to abolish, but to fulfill” from Matthew 5:17. That additional verse is on the cover of your bulletin and comes from Luke 18:31-33.
Then he took the twelve aside and said to them, “Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and all things which are written through the prophets about the Son of Man will be accomplished. For He will be handed over to the Gentiles, and will be mocked and mistreated and spit upon, and after they have scourged Him, they will kill Him; and on the third day He will rise again.”
We will continue to look at Jesus’ use of Old Testament scriptures, but we will see more and more as he draws near to Easter, that he is not just teaching the scriptures, but is a LIVING FULFILLMENT of them. Today we look at the event called the Transfiguration, where he fulfilled one of the significant Old Testament prophecies about the Messiah.

Dazzling Distraction


Today’s text begins with a description of a miraculous event of – dare I say it – biblical proportions! It starts casually enough: Jesus takes Peter, James, and John aside for a side-trip onto a mountain. There was a special relationship between Jesus and those three and this was one of several occasions when they were pulled aside for a special word or experience. In what seems like very minimalist fashion, Mark writes that Jesus “was transfigured (lit. ‘changed in form’) before them.” (v. 2)  …as if “transfigured” (or changing in form!) was a common-place word or something anyone had ever seen or imagined before. We do get the shortest of elaborations on a word that is otherwise beyond us: Jesus’ garments became “radiant and exceedingly white, as no launderer on earth can whiten them.” (v. 3) I think words simply fail at this point. Jesus apparently began to shine like the sun – blindingly and dazzlingly white. And that’s just SCENE ONE!

Then (SCENE TWO) two other figures suddenly appeared and talked with Jesus. Somehow, even with all the shining going on, the disciples were able to recognize that the two additional figures were Moses and Elijah. The next bit is equally as confusing to me. Peter somehow finds wits to speak and asks Jesus if he can make three tabernacles (sacred tents) for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah. (v. 5) Yet in the next verse we are told that Peter really has no idea what he is saying as he and the other disciples become terrified. (v. 6) And we aren’t done yet!

SCENE THREE: Then a cloud formed and a voice came out of the cloud and said, “This is my beloved Son; listen to him!” (v. 7) And then, just like that, it was quiet and they were once again alone with Jesus.

Can you imagine?

Honestly… no, I don’t think we can.

But here’s the thing: we read something like that and the verses that follow seem boring and dull in comparison. Our minds are racing to envision Jesus shining like the sun. Did he peel back his human skin and there was some kind of energy force hiding inside? What did Moses and Elijah look like? Were they like angels or were they glowing? It surely was a terrifying sight… and then the voice of God from the heavens. And is the Hollywood version my mind starts to envision anything like what happened? Was it a vision or real events in real time? So many questions!

None of those questions or thoughts are wrong or unimportant; by all means, keep asking! But in some ways they can become a dazzling distraction keeping us from tuning in to the very important parts that we CAN hear and comprehend. Kind of like the crowd in John 6 last week that risked missing the real point by focusing on the miracle of feeding the crowd instead of the miracle of Jesus himself as the Bread of Life, if we get fixated on the shiny parts of this story, we may miss the real Light of the World.

What’s With Elijah?


As Jesus and the three disciples were coming down the mountain, Jesus told them not to speak of what they had seen. Jesus has said similar things before, raising our curiosity for sure. But, It seems that Jesus had specific intentions about the timing of the news about him. Now, more than ever, he seemed intent on reaching the destination God had in mind. Indeed, he didn’t issue a blanket hush order, but told the disciples to wait “until the Son of Man rose from the dead.” (v. 9)

And now we are getting to the real heart of this amazing story. As miraculous and mind-stretching as the Transfiguration was, it and all that happened around it primarily relate to the Resurrection of Easter morning. We read in v. 10 that the disciples “seized upon that statement, discussing with one another what rising from the dead meant.” There was a belief among some Jews in a general resurrection of the dead, but no expectation of a singular resurrection before the last day.

And between the mention of the Son of Man and the amazing event they have just witnessed, the disciples start connecting some dots. They ask Jesus, “Why do the scribes say that Elijah must come first? (before the last day)” That teaching is a reference to the prophet Malachi, who we heard from in the Call to Worship at the beginning of the service:
4 “Remember the law of Moses My servant, even the statutes and ordinances which I commanded him in Horeb for all Israel. 5 “Behold, I am going to send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and terrible day of the Lord. 6 “He will restore the hearts of the fathers to their children and the hearts of the children to their fathers, so that I will not come and smite the land with a curse.”  (Malachi 4:4-6)
Malachi prophesied that the prophet Elijah (or “one like the prophet Elijah”) would return before the day of the Lord. Several weeks ago, we heard Jesus called John the Baptist the “last great prophet” and compared him to Elijah as a forerunner of the Messiah, saying: “If you are willing to accept it, John himself is Elijah who was to come.” (Matthew 11:14) Here, in the Transfiguration, we have another appearance of Elijah (and Moses with him). Scholars believe that this supernatural appearance of these two key figures are to represent the Law (Moses) and the Prophets (Elijah) and their completion in Jesus, as he described in Matthew 5:17, “I have come to fulfill the Law and the Prophets.”

Notice two more things before we leave Malachi. One is the news that Elijah will announce on his return. It is that God will “restore the hearts of the fathers to their children and the hearts of the children to their fathers…” (Malachi 4:6) Malachi prophesied and Elijah/John announced that this time of restoration was at hand and the Messiah or Son of Man was here.

And remember our song from Malachi 4:2, right before the verses about Elijah?  I can’t help but notice the link with the Transfiguration. What joyful news does the return of Elijah herald? It is the sun of righteousness rising with healing in its wings. Sun of Righteousness… Jesus shining dazzling white… hmm.

It is Written of the Son of Man (v. 12)


In verse 12, Jesus moves from Elijah to the Son of Man, noting that “it is written of the Son of Man that he will suffer many things and be treated with contempt.” He adds to that assertion of scripture to note that “Elijah has indeed come (as John) and they did whatever they wished to him.” Remember that John was imprisoned and killed for his prophetic role. Jesus interprets this as a fulfillment of scripture.

But back to the Son of Man. Jesus says “it is written… that the Son of Man will suffer.” Where is this written? Interestingly, “Son of Man” is largely a title Jesus ascribes to himself. It seems to be part of that laying-low, keep it a secret, hold it to the end approach, most like intended to play down the popular titles and views of the Messiah and allow him to move and teach on his own terms. But when he talks about it being written that the Messiah figure would suffer, he is drawing on a number of themes in the Old Testament. One of the best-known is Isaiah 53, which describes the “suffering servant.” We will return to that passage in the coming weeks leading up to Easter and we will use it today for our Prayer of Confession, for it is one that Jesus (and sinful humanity) fulfilled in great detail. But for now, I’ll simply read a small portion of it so you’ll get a flavor.

2 … He has no stately form or majesty That we should look upon Him, Nor appearance that we should be attracted to Him. 3 He was despised and forsaken of men, A man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; And like one from whom men hide their face He was despised, and we did not esteem Him. 4 Surely our griefs He Himself bore, And our sorrows He carried; Yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken, Smitten of God, and afflicted. 5 But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, And by His scourging we are healed.

The point is exactly this shift that I spoke about as I started today. Up to this point, Jesus has largely been fulfilling the Old Testament scriptures through TEACHING. As he gets closer and closer to his crucifixion and resurrection, he begins more and more fulfilling the Old Testament scriptures IN HIMSELF. I was going to write “through living”; but much of his enacted fulfillment is through his suffering and dying. The point is that he embodied and became the scriptures, truly the Living Word of God.

We will see more and more in the coming weeks that Jesus drew together multiple themes and strands of biblical teaching, law, history, prophecy, and even poetry; again, not just into his own teaching, but into himself. Much of the rest of the New Testament will go on to explore that in depth. Romans explores how Jesus fulfilled the requirements of the Law and God’s righteousness. Ephesians explains how Jesus fulfilled the intent of the covenant with Abraham and Acts tells the story of the unfolding of that post-resurrection covenant community. Hebrews explains how Jesus fulfilled and became the whole Levitical system of offerings and sacrifices.

Takeaways

What can we take away from the account of the Transfiguration? There is a miracle, to be sure. In it we briefly see the glory of Jesus revealed and visible. We see the physical manifestation of the scripture – Law and Prophets – bearing witness to Jesus as the Son of God. We hear Jesus beginning to draw together multiple strands of scriptural teaching about God’s Messiah, locating them in himself and the suffering, and death he is about to endure as well as the glorious resurrection that follows.

Like previous weeks, what this amounts to for us is testimony. It is Jesus saying, “This is who I am!” But wow, isn’t the depth and range of those words getting deeper and wider?! Are you starting to get a sense for who Jesus understood himself to be, who he claimed to be, and who he was? That’s the thing I don’t want you to miss… and that this Bible isn’t just a few lines here and there from a wandering Rabbi, but this Bible that was written over thousands of years resonates with the single, bright note of the Light of the World – Jesus – even as it resonates with all the complexity of a massive symphonic master-work written to anticipate, highlight, and sound that bright note.

Do you hear it? This is Jesus – the Law and the Prophets, the Bread of Life, the Light of the World, the Son of Man and Son of God.

What do you do with that? What do you do with him?



Sunday, March 2, 2014

The Bread of Life (John 6.24-51)

Sermons by: Robert Austell - March 2, 2014
Text: John 6:24-51

:: Sermon Audio (link) - scroll down for written draft  
Click link to open and play in browser; right-click to save. Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes. Search for "Good Shepherd Sermons" or "Robert Austell."  

:: Some Music Used
Gathering Music: "Meditation and Fanfare on 'Praise to the Lord'" (Callahan)
Hymn of Praise: "Praise to the Lord, the Almighty" (LOBE DEN HERREN)
The Word in Music: "The Only Bread I Need" (Terrell)
Offering of Music: "Taste and See" (Helman)
Song of Invitation: "Behold the Lamb/Communion Hymn" (vv. 1-3) (Getty/Townend)
Song of Thanksgiving: "Behold the Lamb/Communion Hymn" (v. 4) (Getty/Townend)
Hymn of Sending: "Jesus, Thou Joy of Loving Hearts" (vv. 1,3,5) (QUEBEC)
Postlude: "Entrada on 'Praise to the Lord'" (Callahan)

:: Sermon Manuscript (pdf)  
This "manuscript" represents an early draft of the sermon. Nevertheless, if you'd prefer to read than to listen, this is provided for that purpose. 
24 So when the crowd saw that Jesus was not there, nor His disciples, they themselves got into the small boats, and came to Capernaum seeking Jesus. 25 When they found Him on the other side of the sea, they said to Him, “Rabbi, when did You get here?” 26 Jesus answered them and said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you seek Me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate of the loaves and were filled. 27 “Do not work for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you, for on Him the Father, God, has set His seal.” 28 Therefore they said to Him, “What shall we do, so that we may work the works of God?” 29 Jesus answered and said to them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent.” 30 So they said to Him, “What then do You do for a sign, so that we may see, and believe You? What work do You perform? 31 “Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread out of heaven to eat.’” 32 Jesus then said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, it is not Moses who has given you the bread out of heaven, but it is My Father who gives you the true bread out of heaven. 33 “For the bread of God is that which comes down out of heaven, and gives life to the world.” 34 Then they said to Him, “Lord, always give us this bread.” 35 Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me will not hunger, and he who believes in Me will never thirst. 36 “But I said to you that you have seen Me, and yet do not believe. 37 “All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out. 38 “For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me. 39 “This is the will of Him who sent Me, that of all that He has given Me I lose nothing, but raise it up on the last day. 40 “For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life, and I Myself will raise him up on the last day.” 41 Therefore the Jews were grumbling about Him, because He said, “I am the bread that came down out of heaven.” 42 They were saying, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How does He now say, ‘I have come down out of heaven’?” 43 Jesus answered and said to them, “Do not grumble among yourselves. 44 “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day. 45 “It is written in the prophets, ‘And they shall all be taught of God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father, comes to Me. 46 “Not that anyone has seen the Father, except the One who is from God; He has seen the Father. 47 “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes has eternal life. 48 “I am the bread of life. 49 “Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. 50 “This is the bread which comes down out of heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. 51 “I am the living bread that came down out of heaven; if anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread also which I will give for the life of the world is My flesh.” ~John6:24-51
Today we are looking at part of one of the longest accounts of Jesus’ miracles and teaching in the Gospels. It is contained in John 6, which begins with a miracle of bread in the “Feeding of the 5,000.” The narrative then follows Jesus (as does the crowd) to the other side of the sea, and picks back up with Jesus teaching about miraculous bread. Read together, John 6 shows the inter-relation between Jesus’ miraculous signs, the scripture, his teaching, and who he is. Said another way, all these things point to Jesus and at the end of the day (and chapter), that is what and who we must grapple with: Jesus himself. What a fitting day for us to end up at the Table of our Lord to receive the bread and cup!

There are a number of ways to work through this text. But with the whole chapter being 71 verses long, and having taken four sermons to preach through it last time, I’ll simply have to pick aspect of this rich story to focus upon. In keeping with our “It is written” series, I am going to lift out the three times scripture is quoted upon which to focus and move through the story this time. Know that what preceded all this was a miracle: the multiplying of fish and bread to feed a hungry crowd of 5,000 men, plus women and children. Know that the crowd followed Jesus, wanting to see more miraculous signs and wanting to pronounce Jesus King according to the popular understanding of Messiah at the time. And then our text picks up right where the crowd finds Jesus in Capernaum on the other side of the sea.

“Do not work for food which perishes but for that which endures” (Isaiah 55:2)


Jesus begins with scripture almost right off the bat, though it is not introduced with the usual “it is written.” He first says to the crowd, “You seek me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate of the loaves and were filled.” (v. 26) Then, he paraphrases Isaiah 55:2, which you heard as our Call to Worship:
1 “Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. 2 Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food. 3 Incline your ear, and come to me; hear, that your soul may live!  (Isaiah 55:1-3a) 
Though his words were a paraphrase – “do not work for the food which perishes” – they would have called this familiar passage to mind as an invitation to come to God and “eat and drink” of eternal things.

Said another way, he is signaling to the crowd that what he is offering is not more literal food, as in the previous days’ feeding. If anything, the “Feeding of the 5,000” was a miraculous sign pointing to something greater. This scripture from Isaiah is a direct invitation to “incline your ear, come to me, and hear, that your soul may live!” Jesus confirms that by going on to say that this enduring food is what “the Son of Man will give to you, for on Him the Father, God, has set His seal.” (v. 27)

The people evidently understand his point, because they respond using the language of Isaiah. If they are not to work or labor for earthly, finite things, they ask, “What shall we do, so that we may work the works of God?” (v. 28) And Jesus’ response here is significant. “This is the work of God,” he says, “that you believe in Him whom He has sent.” (v. 29)

Did you get that? There are all kinds of works we might engage in. There is running after earthly stuff, whether necessary like food and water or more superficial. There is doing “good works” like helping the poor and loving one’s neighbors. But when asked outright what is godly work of the Isaiah kind – that has eternal significance for the soul – Jesus says that it is to believe in the one God has sent. And clearly he means himself, for the people then ask him for proof.

“God gave them bread out of Heaven to eat” (Ps 78, Ex 16, Neh 9, Ps 105)


They ask, “What then do you do for a sign, so that we may see, and believe you? What work do you perform?” (v. 30) They are the ones this time who quote scripture about the manna in the wilderness, saying, “As it is written, ‘He gave them bread out of heaven to eat.’” (Exodus 16:4) The people were expecting a Moses-figure and so they lifted up the great sign that accompanied Moses: the provision of food through manna.

In a perfect and living example of how Jesus did not come to abolish the Law and Prophets, but complete and fulfill them, Jesus does not challenge the scripture at all, but clarifies, “Truly, truly, I say to you, it is not Moses who has given you the bread out of heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread out of heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down out of heaven, and gives life to the world.” (v. 32)

And they want it! “Lord, always give us this bread.” (v. 34) Here’s the thing: they still wanted bread. Their expectations and desires might have graduated from literal bread (like the day before) to something miraculous, but they still were missing what Jesus was saying. He wasn’t claiming to be a new Moses, with signs like the Manna verifying who he was. He was claiming to BE the Manna, the eternal and life-giving food from God in Heaven: “I am the bread of life; he who comes to me will not hunger, and he who believes in me will never thirst.” (v. 35)

This is the truly huge statement in all of this. Jesus is greater than Moses; he is greater than the miracles in Moses’ time; those just point to God’s great eternal provision of soul-food… the sending of Jesus as the “Bread of Life.”

“Your children shall be taught of God” (Is 54, Jer 31)


The people grumble, with more of the “hey, we know his parents; we know where he came from” that we heard in earlier stories. Jesus replies by saying that God has initiated this great act of spiritual feeding, as it was prophesied. Cue “it is written in the prophets” and Jesus quotes Isaiah again, saying, “And they shall all be taught of God.” (54:13)  It used to be that God used mediators like Moses and the Prophets to communicate; now God is communicating directly through Jesus.

Saying a second time, “I am the bread of life,” (v. 48), Jesus reminds the people that as great as Moses was and as life-giving as the Manna was, the people ate it, grew old, and died. He explains that he is the greater gift; the one who eats of it – believing in him – will live forever. (vv. 49-51) And the text this morning concludes with Jesus explaining that the ‘bread’ of which he speaks is his own life and flesh, given up for the life of the world. (v. 51)

Said another way, Jesus is teaching that no one can come to God on their own; God must come to us… and God HAS come to us through Jesus.

This teaching is also intensely relational. Knowledge of God is no longer to be dispensed through Laws and a (human) priestly mediator, but directly between Jesus and humanity, and through Jesus to humanity.

And I say… “I am the Bread of Life” (v. 48)


There are several significant takeaways from all this. I think each of us could locate ourselves somewhere in the crowd that day. It is so easy to think about (and pray to) God in terms of “what can God do for me?” Yet Jesus moves past that to the startling invitation to consider Jesus for who he is rather than what he can do for us.

Interestingly, a human religious tendency seems to mirror that same tension, resulting in religious expression that is primarily oriented on “what can I do for God?” Yet Jesus seemingly holds out more than that to a definition of godly work not as what I can do for God but of trusting the one and the way God has reached out to us.

The one approach is a kind of “backscratch theology” – trying (subconsciously or consciously) to trade favors with God. The other – who Jesus is and what God has and is doing already – sounds like Isaiah, sounds like grace: “Ho! Everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat!”

Jesus says that the only way we can know God is for God to come to us. And the Good News, says Jesus, is that God has done just that. It’s another week of Jesus saying, “This is who I am; do you trust me?”

As Isaiah would say: “Incline your ear and come to him; listen, that your soul may live!” Amen.